November 28, 2005

Short Story: A Crime to Die For, By Nigel Spriggs

A Crime to Die For
By Nigel Spriggs

Her agent described her as genius gone cold. In her own mind, she was genius gone bad, genius found out.

She remembered the moment clearly. Seven years ago now. Conrad Macaffey phoned within minutes of the book launch. "The butler did it," he said.

In hindsight she should have thought up a better response – something along the lines of, maybe, maybe not. Or, you've looked at the last page, Conrad, you cheating stupid waste of space, over-paid, over-critical, under-achieving, book-reviewing scum. Instead she squawked, "How do you know that?"

"It's obvious," he told her. "Within the first twenty pages. A five year old could tell."

Others put it kinder, but the response was always the same. "I knew it was the butler." And then, added in a hurry. "Good read, though. Enjoyed it very much."

She determined to try harder. It somehow made things worse. Her agent looked up from the script. "For God's sake, Constance. The butler did it again."

"You've only read five pages. How can you know that?"
"It's obvious. You've mentioned him a dozen times. You've said he couldn't have done it. He's even got a limp."

"He was in an accident."

"We'll be in an accident if we publish rubbish like this." He dropped the novel in the bin. "Go write something new. And for God's sake, not the butler."

So here she was, five years down the line, screen blank, mind empty. From a shelf her novels watched her. She picked one up, looked at the writing on the fly. Constance Grainger. Queen of Mystery. Master of Macabre. Another Slasher Smasher. Constance sighed. The only mystery now was where it had all gone wrong. She couldn't seem to think straight. She couldn't seem to see. She looked down to her right. A pile of novels towered on the carpet. Greatest Ever Mysteries. The World's Wackiest Unsolved Crimes. Murdered By Who And Why. To her left, a larger pile of cuttings, taken from the press. Constance "The Butler" Grainger Disappears from Scene. Constance "The Butler" Grainger Attacks Critic at Awards (In the picture she is getting fat. Luckily, most people fail to see this. They are too busy gawking at Macaffey, the blood pouring from his nose.) Constance Grainger To Wed (again).

She'd tried marriage to get herself going. And divorce. And marriage two times again. Constance had tried everything, from not working for six months to not having a day off in three years, from typing out her first ever number one smash to typing out every single Harry Potter in the hope her own magic would return. Yet here she was, nothing left inside her, nothing left to write. All the mysteries had been solved.

And if they hadn't, they'd all been done to death: Jack The Ripper. The Mary Celeste. The Babes In The Wood. All the great unsolved. Everything had an answer. Constance couldn't add a thing. And then it came to her. What the world needed was a brand new unsolved crime. A puzzle to get them thinking. Something they'd never be able to solve, no matter how long they spent trying. At last she began to type:

Constance Grainger is retiring. Yep. She's had enough. To show there are no hard feelings, you are invited to a Farewell Constance Party at the above address on Friday, 23rd August. RSVP if you please.

She sent one to her agent, her editor, her ex-husbands, her three main rivals for the title Queen of Scream. She sent one to Conrad Macaffey. With herself, there would be ten. Constance prepared the way she used to write; quickly, methodically, and with an added touch of invention that made her feel brand new. The weeks seemed to fly.

Suddenly, it was time. Her agent turned up first. Then her first and second ex-husbands. Then the other novelists, giggling and preening. Constance showed them in, then ex-husband number three. Finally, her editor and Conrad arrived together. "Conrad," she said. "So glad you could make it. Your nose is looking swell."

He touched it with his finger. "I suppose you think that's funny?"

"Believe you me," Constance said with feeling. "You've caused me much more pain."

This seemed to cheer him up. He allowed her to take his jacket. They went through to join the others. Constance stood at the head of the table.

She tapped her glass for silence. Her guests all turned towards her.

"Well," she said. "Thank you all for coming. As you'll have seen from my invitation, I feel my writing career is over. I just wanted to hold this little party to show there were no hard feelings. Not in life and not in writing. It's been a good innings. I've had a lot of fun. So I propose a toast. Constance Grainger's dead. Long live Constance Grainger." She raised her glass. The others raised their glasses. Constance watched them drain them, then watched as they slumped forwards, one by one, against the table.

Smiling, she put her untouched glass down, went through to the kitchen. The handcuffs and bags were ready. She took them through to the other room. Her guests were sleeping soundly. She cuffed their hands in front of their bodies, then put the bags over their heads, pulled the draw-strings tight. Nine faces turned deep blue; their air began to run out.

Constance went back to her seat: one pair of handcuffs left, one drink, one plastic bag. She looked at her dying companions, then clicked her handcuffs on, drained the drug laced drink, and put her head inside the bag. Her breath began to fog it; her last chapter had begun. Constance pulled the draw-strings tight, smiled at her own genius. This was the perfect crime. No motive. No survivors. No suspects. No forensics. Detectives and writers would puzzle forever and ever, but they would never pin it to her; never, ever solve it.

Constance fell forwards, towards the table, and slipped mysteriously away.


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